Sleeping-berth express train Hokutosei begins new life as a guesthouse

Hokutosei reborn as a guesthouse

A guesthouse known as ‘Hokutosei Square’ that utilizes two carriages from the ‘Hokutosei’ sleeping-berth express train, Japan’s last blue train to be withdrawn from operation in 2015, will open in the city of Hokuto – where it used to pass through – on April 22.

The lobby carriage is equipped with spacious sofas and other amenities, and seven rooms in the sleeping-berth carriage can accommodate up to two guests per room. Two trailer houses are also set up near the train carriages for guests to stay overnight while enjoying views of Hokutosei.
 
The Hokutosei train began operating between Ueno and Sapporo stations in 1988, providing an elegant way to travel by train. For Sawada Michitoshi, the managing director of a rice store in the city, the sight of the train passing through his hometown was a source of adoration. “I saw the brightly lit dining car on my way home from school club activities, and everyone was dressed up and dining. I wanted to ride the train when I grew up.” The Hokutosei train was withdrawn from operation in line with the start of the Hokkaido Shinkansen bullet train service, so his dream was never realized.
 
Instead, he hoped the train could be preserved in the local community. In 2015, after the train had ended its service, Sawada and other young businesspeople in the city formed a committee. The following year, they raised approximately 17 million yen through crowdfunding, and purchased a sleeping-berth carriage and a lobby carriage with a shower room, from JR Hokkaido. In order to continue the project, three volunteers established a limited liability company called Ao.

The original plan was to open in 2020, but the design was changed to accommodate COVID-19 measures, and renovations were completed in December of last year. The body of the carriage, which was noticeably peeling and rusty, was repainted, while the lobby, bunk beds and shower rooms remain as they did at the time of use. Local residents have been hired to work as receptionists and cleaners.
 
“The train used to be a part of the local scenery. We want to make it a new tourist resource that conveys the charm of the town,” says Sawada. “We hope it will become a place where railway enthusiasts and families can revive memories and relive the past.”

Accommodation rates start from 4,000 yen per person for up to two people per room in a sleeping berth, and up to three people per room in a trailer house. Reservations will be accepted via the major travel website Rakuten Travel from April 1.

The original atmosphere has been retained in the Hokutosei Lobby carriage, in which the feeling of traveling by train can be savored
Members of Ao LLC involved in painting work in the interior of a trailer house, from which the Hokutosei can be seen from the window

Location

Hokutosei Square

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